Conversation with a Friend (Passages)

From a conversation about passages with my friend, Carol Barash of Story to College, April 2011.

3575962821_65e04c41b3 It was easy to see a path. Like crossing a stream with big rocks. I knew where to jump and leapt among the stone until…

The stones got smaller? They wobbled? Or turned over?


You didn’t have a place to put your foot? You were standing in cool water?


You could feel the water rushing in from the top of your shoe. You felt your toes curl up then out. It moved over your ankles.


And it was time to move again? You had no choice. If you stayed you would have been washed away.


And so you leapt to the only place you could?


A stone that you didn’t think could hold you? Or that you could reach? And yet it did?


I hope your shoes are dry now, friend. But I have a feeling you’ll have to jump again.


I’m on the other side of the stream you’re in now;  I crossed it two years ago. I’ll reach out and give you a steady hand if you need it but I know you can do it.

Thanks. That’s all I need to know.

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14 Intriguing Perspectives on Career Change You’ll Want To Read

Once a month, my friends at Career Collective and I blog on a common topic. Up this month: How to make a career change.

While this is a topic that I love to talk about — my interest in career change was part of the inspiration in naming "Best Fit Forward" — I didn't contribute this month. Confession: I've been a wee bit focused with my consulting work at StartWire, and made three trips over the last months to places I have never been – Las Vegas (though slot machines are not my scene, I loved connecting with colleagues at the Career Management Alliance conference), the Grand Canyon (don't know if I have words to describe the magestic experience — and we saw it in the snow), and Staten Island (I'd always wanted to take the free ferry from New York).

I'll be back on live for the next round of contributions, but here are the contributions of my colleagues in the interim:

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Managing Your Career 2.0: On Giving Up To Get It Right

I’m a big fan of the A& E show Hoarders, a program that looks “inside the lives of people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis.” 2837613821_7bcbd65cf1_m
If I sit down to watch it, I invariably stand up and beginning throwing things away–or start making a list of what can go.

This month’s post for the Career Collective focuses on spring cleaning for job search–and letting go of things that no longer work for you.

My take today: One of the most powerful things you can let go of is the quest to be perfect. Most of us–myself included–aren’t capable of doing everything well. There are some things we do really well, and there are some things that–try as we might–just aren’t our forte. Sometimes, the things that are more difficult for us to do–and that we don’t enjoy–are the things we should give up.

Here are two examples from people I’ve had the good fortune to work with:

  • A Teacher who got promoted to be an Assistant Principal but who discovered that office politics and paperwork weren’t for her. She didn’t like working in a different capacity with former colleagues. She had a good mentor, she just didn’t want to move forward. She returned to teaching–and she’s much happier.
  • A Marketing Professional who was on a track to become a Vice President of Creative Services at a Fortune 50 (a role 90% of her colleagues craved). She discovered she enjoyed executing on ideas more than she liked creating them–and switched tracks to focusing on Operations.

For these women, the pursuit of happiness meant taking the “road less traveled” professionally. It was a move “against the grain” for careers long set as goals, and yet–the decision not to pursue the path originally decided upon was ultimately more fulfilling.

The decision on what to give up doesn’t always require one to forfeit a career path.

I once worked for an Engineering School Dean who believed on focusing your strengths–and spending very little time to correct weaknesses. His job required that he give multiple speeches a year to diverse constituencies. And so he developed one amazing talk which he adapted slightly to meet the needs of audiences. One talk for a Dean responsible for the leadership of an entire school. But the talk was so good that those of us who heard it–are unlikely to ever forget it. He was hired away to run a much larger university.

My mom started a new career at 50 when her work interests changed. She gave up a coveted job to start her own small business.

David Broder, who died today, and was frequently referred to as one of the greatest journalists of our time–gave up filing and throwing things away. A Washington Post tribute says that his desk was “so messy that at times there was barely enough room for him to slip through the door and sit in front of his computer.” I’ve been reading his work since I was 20, and I’m glad he spent his time elsewhere.

What’s in your way? And what will you throw out in order to keep moving forward?

Drawing by Lori Hutchinson


Here are the links to posts on this topic from my wise colleagues at Career Collective–read ’em and reap!

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Career Advice Not Worth Taking Part III: Talking About Your Passions

This is the second in a three part series inspired by an e-book of career advice that prescribed answers to interviewing questions. 5460215095_3399c7cf98

Here, I take a look at the Q & A given by the e-book’s authors, and suggest an alternative response:

Question: What are you passionate about?

Suggested Answer: This question is a good opportunity to share what is important in your life.

My answer: Talk about your values, your interests, your hobbies – but keep it professional and always remember that there’s a job on the table.

As I see it, interviewing is like the Olympic gymnastics competition. No matter what the forum is—from balance beam and parallel bars to floor exercises—everyone knows what the judges are looking for, and everyone knows that to get the medal, the gymnast must stick the landing. (I expand on this–and share my own hobby here–in a piece for on How Passion Can Improve Your Career Prospects.)

So even if you are the best cupcake maker in Chicago, the best junior scuba diver in Mobile, Alabama, an avid traveler with pictures from two months in Outer Mongolia—you still need to share your attributes, interests and qualities in such a way that it directly relates to the position.

Otherwise, you won’t stick the landing for the question. And you may not get the offer. Because what matters most to a majority of employers—is that you’ll be able to do the job if you hired.

How do you see this one? I’d love to hear your take!

Photo by John Crowley

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Career Advice Not Worth Taking Part II: Should You Say You’re Always Flexible?

This is the second in a three part series inspired by an e-book of career advice that prescribed answers to interviewing questions. 5460819092_c52c547692

Here, I take a look at the Q & A given by the e-book’s authors, and suggest an alternative response:

Question: What type of work environment do you prefer?

Suggested Answer: Always answer “I am flexible.”

My take: Only answer that you are flexible if YOU REALLY ARE. Because when you are hired, you will work 40+ hours a week in this environment, and if it isn’t a good environment for you—you shouldn’t do it.

Any interview is a two-way street: You pick the employer, and the employer picks you. The interview is your opportunity to find out more about the work environment and to see if it is a good fit for you.

You should know what type of work environment you work best in—do you prefer to work with just one or two colleagues, or with ten? Do you like it when others share your interests—or do you prefer to play a unique role in a team. Were you the coxswain as opposed to a rower on the crew team. Or a goalie on the soccer team instead of a forward?

Would you like to work in an environment in which the “only constant is change” or do you like to know what to expect on a Monday morning?

You should know what you offer first, and answer the question honestly–but in a way which also takes into account the needs of the employer.

Here’s a quick way to do this: Take the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) and study up on what others who fall into the same personality type (category) do—and don’t do. (You can even follow-up by checking out the book, Do What You Are, which goes into great detail on this.)

Then develop an answer in advance which is genuine. For example, if you thrive on scheduling and getting things done in advance you might say:

For example, “I can perform well under stress when called to do so, but my general M.O. is to plan so I don’t have to. In my last job, my goal was to complete large assigned projects at least three business days in advance to allow time for error or things that come up. This strategy helped my team meet deadlines–and meant I never had to pull an “all-nighter.”

That’s my answer. What’s your take: How would you answer this one?

Photo by John Crowley

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Career Advice Not Worth Taking: Does a Pat Answer to How You Deal With Stress Work?

Several weeks ago, I learned of a free new career e-book for new grads from a technical recruiting firm. I worked in university career offices for eight years before starting my business, so I couldn’t wait to see what they had to say. 5460821586_4e011d7150

  • Good advice on the need for a mentor. Check.
  • Proactive practices to scout for opportunities from social media to interviewing 101. Check.
  • Sound strategies on doing your homework before applying for a job. Check.

The Guide was filled with good advice, until I got to the section on going “Beyond Interviewing 101” which had prescribed answers for each question.

Over the next three days, I’ll be sharing these Questions & Answers with you–the suggested advice along with my take. Here’s the first:

Question: How do you handle stress and pressure?

Suggested Answer: The best answer would be saying “I actually work better under pressure” and giving an example.


My take:

This is the answer that the recruiting firm who wrote the e-book wants to hear from the candidates that they are trying to recruit. They are spoonfeeding it to you. So if you interview with them, this is the answer that they are looking for.

I don’t recommend this approach.

I think the answer to this question should be balanced with candor: Talk about how flexible you are–or how you approach your work–within the context of what the employer needs.

1. How you REALLY handle stress and pressure and

2. How the employer NEEDS you to handle stress and pressure.

There are some jobs where you MUST work under pressure: Think live tv or videostreaming, stock trading, the ER, other positions that require you to perform “in the moment.”

But for many jobs employers NEED for the environment to be as stress-free as possible: Here are a few examples: therapeutic horseback riding facilities, spas, quality assurance for companies who cannot operate without FDA approval.

Most jobs are in between. Many employers don’t appreciate procrastination—or situations that lead to stress and pressure. Also something to consider.

How would you answer this question? And how would you assess what’s important to the hiring organization?

Till next time,


Photo by John Crowley

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Appreciation: Hazel Rowley

This weekend, I’m mourning the loss of a neighbor I never met. I may have shared an elevator with her at some point, but I don’t believe we ever spoke.

I live in a 12 story building in New York. There are 12 apartments on each floor. Boxes within a box. There are four tenants named J. Kim who live in the row of apartments – e.g. 108, 308, 708, 1008. Each of these apartments has the same floor plan. None of the Kims are related.

The doormen and the building owners are perhaps the only people who know everyone.

A few weeks ago, I walked in the lobby and Julian said, “I want to ask you something. Come here.”

Julian is originally from India, has a fascination for American politics, regularly polls tenants on politics and is a consummate predictor of weather.

“Isn’t your first name–the name you don’t use–Eleanor?”


“Do you know Hazel? The writer who recently moved back again from France?”


“She just wrote this book, Franklin and Eleanor, about Eleanor Roosevelt. She brought it to me. I am going to read it. You should, too.”

A life-long admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt. I made a mental note to read it…after I got to the book I have still yet to buy–and read–for my book club. I’d leave Ms. Rowley a note after I read it, I thought. And maybe see if she wants to have coffee.

On Friday, Julian stopped me again.

“What do I wear to a funeral in a Catholic Church on a Saturday? Should I wear a suit and tie?”

“Who died?,” I said.

“Hazel, the writer,” he said. “She had a stroke, heart trouble. She was young – only 59.”

I’ve spent the weekend learning about my former neighbor–online. Born in London, Hazel Rowley was also raised and educated in Australia, where she studied and later taught literary studies at a university. She was a writer’s writer, having written biographies about writers Christina Stead, Richard Wright, and another providing an in-depth glimpse into the relationship of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sarte. The Age reports that she “once described writing a biography as like having a love affair”:

You know how it is when you are in love? You smile indulgently at their faults, you are fascinated by every minor detail about them. You cannot take your mind off them, you become so totally obsessed. You live with them day and night for years.

Apparently, her love was paying off: Franklin & Eleanor was named one of the best 10 books for 2010 by NPR’s Fresh Air. The book was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in October; she died in the middle of her book tour. The New York Times has yet to mention her passing, but here’s a brief obit from the International Business Times. And a piece on her book from NPR. What a career!

Do I even need to tell you what my next read will be? Thank you, Hazel (and Julian).


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The Keywords You Need To Find the Right Job

Have you spent hours searching job boards for position listings?


Do you know what you want but get too many search results when you look for it? 2159980025_4e6b965217


Did you know employers and hiring managers are very sophisticated when they look for candidates, and know just the right key words to use?

Here are a few examples of how recruiters scout candidates 

C++ java -jobs -samples intitle:resume OR inurl:resume AND Cleveland
this is an example of a Google Search for software candidates in Cleveland

(“business analyst” OR “systems analyst” or Analyst or BA) and (Retail or POS or “point of sales”) and (ecommerce or e-commerce or web or internet) and (inventory or SCM or “supply chain”) and (“crystal report*)
this is a search string from a recruiter challenged to find candidates for Business Analyst positions with experience in Crystal Reports. This search string is one that can be used inside job boards


Today, we’re going to help you create your own string. You don’t even have to learn the language.


I’m working with the recruiting industry insiders who built the products used by 70% of the Fortune 500 to find candidates. We are going to give you a customized string for your job search.


After years of training companies to find candidates, my friends Chris Forman and Tim McKegney founded StartWire, a private social networking platform, to help job seekers.


If you join StartWire and complete a profile that share your interests–ideal job title, industry sectors of interest and location; Chris and Tim will provide you with your own custom Boolean search string you can use for your own needs.


Registering on StartWire takes less than five minutes, and you’ll get your search string within 48 hours–at the latest. Sound good?


To your success,



(P.S. StartWire will help you find keywords to search for the right job, if you need help finding keywords for your resume, check out this post I wrote on how to find the best keywords through a tag cloud.)

Cross-posted on Secrets of the Job Hunt. Photo by Cayusa.

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Job Hunting Rules To Break (Or Why & How to Crowd Your Shadow)

I participate in the Career Collective, a community of bloggers who convene and give their takes on a singular topic once a month. Up this time: outdated job search beliefs or rules that are made to be broken. 4322985400_4040be8509_z


Given that it’s Groundhog Day and hundreds of journalists and on-lookers are gathered to tell us if a singular groundhog, Punxsutawny Phil, will see his shadow or not, I’m going to talk about what I call the “shadow myth”: The idea that you are only presenting yourself accurately in your job search if you conduct your job search on your own–without help.

You know the oft-quoted statistic on networking, but I’ll repeat it anyway: A majority of non-entry level job offers are the direct result of networking. A job search conducted entirely on the couch or behind a computer monitor is less likely to yield results.

Research or not, it’s very tempting to conduct your job search on your own for a number of reasons: you can preserve your privacy, avoid the “did you hear from them yet?” question from others, and leave the feedback to your perspective employer instead of others. If you’re a private person or someone who doesn’t like to share everything with everyone–this strategy can feel good. If only it worked.

Unless you are currently employed and have a highly unique and sought after skill, the private job search has a lower likelihood of success. You need others to give you leads and perspective. After all, who’s the first person you look for in a group photo? Yourself. To paraphrase the late Walker Percy, “you’ve spent a lifetime with yourself, don’t you know what you look like?” Somethings are just hard to do on your own.

Most people you meet will develop a first impression of you in less than 30 seconds, an employer–on average–gives you less than 15. It’s worth getting feedback from friends, mentors, and colleagues so that you know how you appear to others. And as I mentioned, since the people you know can also share the leads that will very likely lead to your next job–it’s a no-brainer.

If Punxsatawney Phil sees his own shadow today, there will be six more weeks of winter. Disrupt your shadow by getting other people to help you in your job search, and you may shorten the time it takes for you to land your next gig.

In my post last month, I announced that I am working with StartWire, a new social collaboration platform that allows job seekers to get help from a closed private network of trusted friends that they create. (Your tweets may go into the Library of Congress, but StartWire status updates stay inside the system and will never be visible on any social graph.)

StartWire is based on the concept that a few people who have your back can expedite your job search. On average, most of us know about 600+ people–and a lot of what we know about them isn’t on LinkedIn, Facebook or any other online website. Job seekers can use StartWire to share their interests, ask questions of friends, and get feedback on their resume and job search targets–all in private. It’s like a buddy system for your job search.

StartWire is now in open beta. Consider this your invitation to check it out and let me know what you think. (You can also contact me if you have questions or want to learn more.)  But most of all, I hope you won’t see your shadow this winter–and wish you every success.

Photo by J. Stephen Conn.

Here are additional posts on the topic of job hunting rules to break from my savvy colleagues and fellow members of the Career Collective:

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They’re Just Not Into Me…Or Are They?

One of the job seekers I know and think the world of applied for her dream job several months ago. Based on  the job description and what she could learn of the organization, it wasn’t only an ideal role from her perspective: She also had the skills and experience the employer requested. A perfect match–or so it seemed.

Only she never heard from them. Ever. 

How did she feel? I don’t even need to tell you. 1909249179_ef653964d4_m

She followed up with an e-mail. And she learned why they didn’t contact her–and wouldn’t be: The organization she applied to put the search on hold.

The reason she wasn’t interviewed had nothing to do with her. It was outside her locus of control. And if she hadn’t followed up with them, she would never have known it. She could have spent months with her head down thinking, “they’re just not into me.” Or days stuck inside her head thinking negative thoughts.

How often do you let the job search process go like that for you? And if you follow up with an e-mail and it doesn’t break your way, what’s your coping strategy? I’ll share a suggestion or two in my next post.

To Your Success,

Photo by MargoLove

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